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Last update: 20 May, 2020

Micro adjustments in the laya patterns is one of the most noticeable structural aspect of MDR’s music. He plays with the placement of various elements in the overall laya fabric and generates very pleasing effects from such improvisations. His interest in this aspect is clearly evident if we look the way he had designed chiTTaswaras for some of the krutis. atIta/anAgata eduppu is typically used at the start of pallavi/anupallavi/charaNams, but MDR enjoyed applying this at a micro level – he would move the words or syllables or swaras in a line by a few mAtras (compared to the standard varNamettu) and adjust the rest of the line appropriately to generate interesting musical effects.

  • Note the default placement of swaras in this chiTTaswara for his own krutityAgarAja gurum” in kedAram – default placement itself is lovely and then he improvises it dynamically!

And because of these types of laya plays, an MDR rendition can be good way to learn control over tALa for a student or rasika 🙂 For example, if you have just learnt what khanDa chApu taLa is, they you can try putting tALa for the following small rendition of nAdupai! One will quickly realise that MDR does not start end many of this syllables/words at the typically expected place, which means one cannot use those syllables to align tALa! One has to have/develop the correct timing to put the tALa for such a rendition!

Though these changes in the laya patterns are interesting from a listener’s point of view, this poses some challenges to the co-artists. If they are not aware of what MDR is going to do, sometimes, it can result in perceivable disconnect between the foreground music and the background beats. On the other hand, when all the artists are in sync, these embellishments creates surreal effects.

Some of these aspects are described further below.

Macro level laya plays

Sometimes, MDR liked to play with the macro level laya structure when singing krutis. He would double or halve the tempo as appropriate and also will shift from chatushram to tishram and back. One of his favourite place to do this is for chiTTaswara for “big” krutis. At times, he did this for sAhitya parts as well.

  • An example of such laya variation can be seen in this “dAriNi telusukoNTi” for the line “A janmamu peddalu“.

  • Note how he renders the “kaliyuga pratykSham” in the below “hariharaputram“. (For full concert, refer here)

  • In this case, he is doing a tishram and then a very “tight” faster round. And he remarks at the end of this exercise that that he just took a shortcut 🙂

  • Most artists (including MDR himself) uses increasing the tempo (say doubling) to create some excitement during a rendition! In addition, MDR was also an expert in slowing down a line in a kruti and creating interesting effects. Check out this “yocanA” around 1:07:00:

Grouping and placement of words and syllables

This was one of his favourite laya play and most of his renditions will have at least few of these!

  • In the “pAhi rAma dUta” (vasantavarALi) rendition below, note the wonderful effect he creates in the anupallavi, by splitting and separating out the words. Note the difference between first and second Avartana (Full concert can be heard here)

  • In this instance, check how he is playing with placement of the syllables in “kamaladaLa nayanan” at around 2:32:30 – simple, but lovely!

  • This whole song is filled with various laya plays – placement, grouping, speed variations, precise gaps etc.

  • In the below “hariharaputram“, it is interesting to note the way MDR is ending the sAhitya part. In the first Avartana, he is inserting somewhat equal length pauses between the split words/segments. And then he ends with “Hari”-“Hara”-“Puthram” at equal lengths and at the same pitch, giving a unique feel.

  • A simple example of how the laya fabric can be varied to give amazing feel without affecting the overall tala structure is shown so beautifully in the below “mAmava paTTAbhirAma” (maNirang)! If you note carefully, you can see that MDR is using “atIta eduppu” for sections “kOmaLatara“, “pallava pada” etc. This avoids the kArvai/elongation of syllables to fit the sAhitya. Other place where one can feel the difference between the “traditional” way and MDR’s way is at “chatra chAmara“. Listen carefully and enjoy the “MDR version” 🙂

  • Another kruti rendition where lot of laya play and placements are tried – sAmaja vara gamanA. Since this is a relatively slow rendition, it is relatively easy to understand the variations for a lay rasika. Note the different pallavi repetitions and how the syllables are pronounced and spaced. And then you can compare this with more renditions of the same song referred in other pages to see how this will sound when sung at a different tempo.

Gouping and placement of swaras

When pre-set swara patterns like chiTTaswaras or muktAyiswaras are created, a good part of it follows the sarvalaghu pattern, with somewhat equidistant placement of swaras. MDR’s yet another way of creating beautiful musical effect is by taking such a swara prastAra and grouping swaras into small blocks, varying their mAtrAs and then introducing appropriate gaps between these blocks.

  • One of the MDR’s favourite place to play with placement of words and swaras is the varNams. Take this example of “viribONi” (note especially around the chiTTaswaras starting from 6:25):

  • Hear this instance of bhairavi swarajati where he is playing around with the swaras from around 1:15:07.

  • In this “bhAvayAmi“, he plays with laya at multiple places as usual. You can hear one such instance during the mOhanam swaras. The starting point is set as the stanza start itself. Other than the laya plays during sAhitya and swaras, one can also observe how MDR uses swarAkSharas at different places and how he plays with emphasis on worlds. Also, see how he enjoys the final part of the swaras!

  • At different points in this swara passage, MDR is using the laya play to enhance the overall effect. Voice modulation employed is also very beautiful!

  • The beauty of laya play can be seen in this chiTTaswara passage in “vanajAkSa“. Note the second Avartana! In this passage, you can also see the way he emphasises some swaras over others, bringing some beautiful effects.

  • Sometimes, the grouping and placement of swaras my not be very obvious, but subtle and limited. Note the handling of muktAyiswaras in “viribONi“:

  • Here is another example (“sAmi ninne kOri“), check few seconds from 7:26 – very short and subtle!

  • maguva ninnE (nArAyaNagowLa). see the play with placements of swaras around 2:52, 5:00 etc:


Almost every varNam that MDR renders is replete with such laya plays. Can’t resist linking few more 🙂

  • vanajAkshivarNam in kalyANi – enjoy!!

  • Another “viribONi” 🙂

  • This “AnandanaTamADuvAr tillai” is a fine example of how pauses, right grouping & placement of syllables and slective emphasis can create a wonderful listening experience. The whole rendition is great; especially note the variations in the pallavi – lovely! To make things interesting, MDR has thrown in two micro-neravals (vocal-violin exchanges) at the anupallavi/charaNam 🙂